I am writing this blog post from The UK, people! Yes, you heard right I am now back on my home turf after an eventful final week in St Chély. And I am experiencing something that I never knew existed and which has come as something as a shock. Its name is Reverse Culture Shock but to explain this, I will start by relaying to you what happened in my final week.
All of my classes were coming to an end and consequently, I started receiving gifts from the classes that I taught. Giant signed cards, keyrings and even a sausage were given to me as departing gifts and I never thought saying goodbye would be so hard. The school even gave me a coat with the school’s logo on. I think that because everybody starts to realise that you are going they make even more of an effort to spend time with you, which is lovely. In particular, the students of the pôle supérieur, who were my age. I was living with them on campus over the semester with them however I did not interact with them that much at first outside of lessons because 1) it’s difficult to put yourself out there when you’re the odd one out 2) they often didn’t even realise I was actually living there and 3) It is also tricky to know how far to draw the line with them as I am not their teacher nor am I a student, too. Over the last 2 weeks, now that I had had my final class with them I have become much more open with them to the extent that we have been drinking, partying and clubbing together.
I wasn’t going to go partying with them this week as I had a flight early Friday morning but even the teachers convinced me to just go out and have fun. It was certainly a very eventful night. I drank so much (as it was my last night, I was definitely picked on during the French drinking games!) and actually, I was completely out of it at the club. The students had to take me home and look after me!! They all thought it was great and I am glad I didn’t ruin their nights. They were absolutely brilliant looking after me in my messy state and whenever I spend time with them, they are always so interested in me and treat me just like one of them. And I have experienced this with the teachers, too. Before I left, at least 5 teachers have said that I can come back and stay with them and I even had a couple of cheeky Malibu and cokes with one of them on my last day.
And now I am going through such a weird experience. I am delighted to be back in The UK. Christmas is always a memorable, family time and I am so happy to be back for it, don’t get me wrong. But over this weekend, I have also been feeling very, very down about leaving St Chély. And I never thought that I would feel like this. And this is the definition of Reverse Culture Shock. Expecting to be on a high to be home but actually feeling unexpectedly down. I was very happy to be going home. Not because St Chély was a bad experience, because it was incredible, but because I just really wanted to be home for the holidays. However, now I am suddenly missing speaking French and majorly missing the students who treated me so, so warmly. Both them and I are gutted that I wasn’t spending longer in St Chély and I felt like I was getting to know some of them really, really well particularly towards the end. I think it always would have been the case though as the combination of a) no longer having lessons with them meaning that I could be more open with them and b) them making even more of an effort with me the moment just before I left as they realised I was leaving, meant that we got considerably closer and I reckon that this would have happened whether my leaving date was December or February. I just really appreciate their generosity. Going to a random, rural town in the South of France, not knowing anybody, was a daunting challenge. Who knew that 3 months later, I would come to love the place and the people, despite my initial reservations about it being so rural and remote.
I also grew a lot as a person during my time there. Not only with how much I have improved my level of French (which has come on massively) but also, living alone in a foreign country has inevitably made me even more physically independent than I was beforehand. However, it also gave me a lot of thinking time to be reflective about life in general and because of this, I am feeling very confident with who I am, what I am capable of and what I want from life.
Consequently, St Chély will always have a special place in my heart (cheesy, but true) and I am already looking into going back next year. In fact there is a direct train from Valencia (where I am doing Erasmus next semester) to Montpellier. So it will in fact be very easy for me to head back during the Spanish holidays next semester. Both the students and I are genuinely gutted that I had to leave, but I am happy in the knowledge that I will hopefully be back very soon.
So where do I go from here? Articles on Reverse Shock Culture say that the key to getting over it is to just get actively involved in what’s going on back at home and this is exactly what is going to happen for me. I am ecstatic to be able to see friends and family over Xmas. In Liverpool, I’ve got some catch ups arranged, 21st birthdays to go to and I still need to do my crimbo shopping. So lots of exciting things planned.
Finally, I would just like to take this opportunity to say a massive merci to everyone in St Chély who has looked after me and treated me with such hospitality. Samuel, Estelle, Anthony, Thomas, Flavien, Pepito, Marion, Candice, Damien, Alicia, Florie etc thank you so much for being so warm and welcoming and I will be back soon 😉
So this concludes my final blog on this half of the Year Abroad. In all seriousness, I can’t believe that it is over. Yes, there were times whilst it was happening that it seemed like it was going slowly but generally, looking back now, it flew by. And I have no regrets about doing this assistantship. Interestingly, the system is changing next year. Instead of schools and assistants being randomly matched, I have been told that schools will now advertise themselves and the assistants will apply to the schools. Now if this were the case for me, I would never have chosen St Chély. And now I am so happy with how it turned out. So my piece of Year Abroad advice before signing off for Christmas would be this: BE OPEN MINDED. About everything. Who knows how things will turn out. You may be nervous, as I was, about the location. But it has all turned out the opposite to how I thought it would. So just go with everything, say yes to everything and also, just be prepared for things to go wrong, too. Cos they inevitably will but just remain open minded, and reassure yourself that things will eventually work out because they will and you will thoroughly enjoy yourself. I just hope someone will actively choose St Chély next year as I had an incredible time there.
Hoping all of my readers have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I will miss writing my blog over the holidays!
Thank you for reading and see you in 2014 😉